GALLIPOLIS — Members of civic organizations, the faith-based community and government gathered at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church on Second Avenue this week for a second meeting, as group members continue to construct a plan for an event meant to unify the community and take a stand against violence.
Sparked in part by the recent Florida school shooting, members have a working idea for the kind of event they wish to promote but have yet to settle on a date or concluding details.
Group members seek to attract student leaders and speakers in a show of unity against violence and isolation. The event is slated to be set in City Park at a future date. A key component of the event revolves around the idea of having a message wall which would allow event goers to share their feelings as a means of catharsis in an apolitical fashion. A moment of silence would be offered to give those following a faith a chance to pray while those who do not follow a faith to have a moment of quiet reflection.
Empathy was a central tenant of Monday’s discussion with Episcopal pastor and host AJ Stack leading conversations and questions. Gallia Citizens for Prevention and Recovery Chairperson Thom Mollohan, along with Gallia-Meigs-Jackson Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Executive Director Robin Harris, said that many of the concerns connected with mental health were also found with addiction and abuse. In layman’s terms, the more a person becomes isolated, the more the person reaches for ways to cope and self-medicate. If not shown a more healthy path, that behavior can often be destructive to one’s self and others.
“The family is the place where children learn trust,” said Mollohan. “There is no trust in our community and social media. We don’t trust one another. Children don’t trust because they’ve not been taught that there’s anyone trustworthy. If we can begin to build relationships in our community, even when children don’t have their parents, we can come together and fill the gaps and build trusting relationships. Not just teachers and students but neighbor to neighbor…That goes a long way in changing the dynamic that feeds this stuff (violence and destructive behavior).”
Mollohan felt that empathy was a learned behavior and was integral in preventing acts of violence.
“Relationship and connection to each other and the community is the saving grace that will do what we’re set to do,” said Stack about the event.
“The science even shows that children’s brains are changed and can be traumatized by yelling and anger in a household, even as an infant,” said Harris. “Some kids we know are being exposed to it repeatedly and it changes the way the brain develops and the way it functions into their lives.”
Harris said area behavioral professionals were already moving to work with children in the schools to practice “trauma care” for their individual and respective life challenges.
Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin was asked during the meeting what schools were doing to protect students. Champlin replied that he couldn’t speak for area superintendents but that area law enforcement had taken efforts to work with schools in training and protection drills. He said he understood why the public would want to know what was being done but that one did not want to “tip their hand” to a potential threat in order to keep a defensive advantage. He replied that he felt area educational institutions were “ahead of the curve” when it came to national efforts to defend educational facilities and were proactively seeking to prevent trouble.
The group again agreed to meet at 10 a.m. the following Monday at the church with Stack inviting all to attend and participate in the discussion.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.